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Proposed Kenya Tribunal Encounters Resistance

Kenyan lawmakers are ready to again take up a bill to create a tribunal for trying those suspected of organizing the violence which erupted following the December 2007 elections. A deadline for the bill's approval has passed, meaning suspects' names can now be forwarded to the International Criminal Court in the Hague but the Kenyan government is asking for more time to pass the legislation.

Kenya's power-sharing agreement was reached last February, following two months of post-election violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

A commission to investigate the violence was subsequently created and in October that body recommended the creation of a tribunal to try the suspected organizers. The commission gave the government a series of deadlines for creating the tribunal, warning that if these were not met the suspects' names, which have not been released, could be forwarded to the International Criminal Court.

The deadline for Kenya's parliament to approve legislation creating the tribunal was last Friday. The government introduced a bill that day, but lawmakers led by Gitobu Imanyara, a member of the president's party, blocked fast-tracking the bill.

A former human rights lawyer, Imanyara objected to the lack of public debate given the bill, claiming the legislation would provide a flawed tribunal.

He and others say the bill does not provide adequate protection for witnesses, lacks clarity on how the tribunal would interact with Kenya's regular justice system and does not do enough to prevent the possibility that the government could simply pardon those accused.

"Right now I do not think that the Kenyan government has demonstrated the political will that it should have in terms of establishing a tribunal that can be deemed to be credible enough, it can be deemed to be independent and impartial," said Ndung'u Wainaina, the director of the International Center for Policy and Conflict in Nairobi.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who mediated last year's power-sharing negotiations, has the option of forwarding suspects' names to the International Criminal Court. Prime Minister Raila Odinga - who shares power with President Mwai Kibaki - said Saturday he asked Annan for more time to pass a bill.

Wainaina has spoken positively of the ICC option, but says a better choice might be for increased international pressure on Kenya's leaders to improve the proposed local tribunal.

"We are recommending that Kofi Annan play a more central role in the setting up of this tribunal," said Wainaina. I think evidence has shown very clearly last week that the tribunal that these people are set to setup they want a tribunal that at a certain stage in time, one, they can be able to shut it down, or two, they can be able to manipulate it and subject it to undue pressure," Wainaina said.

The suspects are believed to include six sitting cabinet ministers and other high-profile political and business leaders. Some lawmakers, including Agriculture Secretary William Ruto, who has been accused of involvement in last year's violence, have not hidden their lack of enthusiasm for a tribunal.

The proposed tribunal would investigate events from December 3, 2007 - three and a half weeks before the election - through February 28, when the agreement between Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga was signed.